It all begin when 4 friends had the crazy idea to add a day trip to the Taj Mahal during their emirati vacation.
I was convinced that we had packed all that we needed to see of Dubai into our itinerary so we had time to spare. Frankly, after all the research I had done, I thought I would get bored there (I was right, I wasn't as taken with the city as I heard I might be).
I want to get to the meat of this post because the story is long but you need some background. So I think I'll do it in parts. This is Episode 1 of Pappuji and the Disrespectful Journey to the Taj Mahal.
First, if you've read previous posts you know I love a overnight flight. Accordingly, we took a late flight from Dubai that arrived in New Delhi just before 4am. We anticipated this would be enough time for us to catch our 6am train ride to Agra. We did not anticipate that we would be standing in the customs line (which was only about 20 people deep) for over an hour. The wait can be directly attributed to the customs agents taking their sweet time to review everyone's travel documents, like going above and way beyond. Doing a full background check and asking me the names of my last 5 boyfriends, what elementary school I went and my shoe size. (I'm exaggerating but that's how I felt.)
Anyway, as a result of this incredibly, and I think deliberately, slow process, we had to rush to the hotel, but the taxi we scheduled to pick us up from the airport didn't show. So we had to flag a taxi....another delay. We arrived at the hotel, went through the insane security, checked in with the nicest people ever...dropped off our stuff and rush back out to catch our private car to the train station. Upon arrivng at the train station, I noticed one very important thing:
THE TRAIN STATION IN NEW DELHI WAS UTTER AND COMPLETE CHAOS, the most I've ever seen. Maybe the most in the world. --> This statement is not a misrepresentation of reality.
The driver had to let us out at the front gate b/c it was too crowded, he wasn't able to get us any closer. So we left the comfort of the hotel's spacious, air conditioned Audi and stepped into pandemonium. There were people everywhere. We had to step over people sleeping in the streets (but not just sleeping in the streets but people who had set up shop and like this was the place they slept every night), dodge all the stray dogs, avoid stepping in garbage or whatever that was on the street.....and take care not to bump anyone else who was carrying luggage or baskets or children or tvs in their arms or on their heads. I swear, I've never seen anything like this before. It was totally not what I expected. I had some warning that it would be a chaotic scene but nothing could have prepared me for this. I tried my best to stay with the group and keep my senses about me but....I was genuinely overwhelmed. I wasn't ready. I had no time or desire for picture taking but I didn't need it....that image is forever ingrained in my head.
We were running out of time. The train was scheduled to leave at 6:00am and it was quickly approaching. We went back and forth asking people how to enter the station. Once we were finally pointed in the right direction, where the large crowd of people forcing itself into a small line was gathered, we attempted to enter the platform thru the security area, where again, we were asking to place our bags on the conveyor belt for x-ray and walk through a metal detector. We were pushed and shoved, and we pushed and shoved (and kicked), until a guy who I believe worked for the train station (I hope he worked for the train station) asked us if we needed assistance. I'm assuming we looked like deer in headlights.
My friend showed him the confirmation for our first class accommodations purchased through a company called Cleartrip on his smart phone. I believe this was our first, second and third mistake. First class accommodations, shown on a first rate iPhone 6 Plus. The guy looked at the phone, read the information on the confirmation and proceeded to tell us that our train had been canceled.
Ugh...What do you mean the train has been canceled?? Like the entire train? The route? The tracks are missing? There is no train? All the trains? I need answers! We argued with him for a little while...but to no avail. As far as we knew, there was never a train at all. The train vanished into thin air and all the passengers with it, like some weird Bermuda Triangle story.....
We spoke to another guy, same story....train canceled...life ruined.....bubble busted..... I don't actually think the train was canceled. I just think they saw us, we were obviously foreigners and we were showing tickets on a smart phone purchased through a third party vendor and they just didn't like it. I can't recall how many people we talked to, but one train station attendant finally directed us to the IBT (India Travel Bureau) for help. Maybe there we would be able to get tickets for a later train. The problem was, this was an express train that fit into out travel schedule perfectly.....oh well. Lesson: you will have to be flexible. Stupid stuff like this happens.
So the guy summons a cab driver, they say something to each other that we don't understand, but the driver agrees to take us to the travel bureau for 200 rupees (That's about $3, $1 = 66.40 Indian Rupees according to today's conversion rates). This man speaks no English and didn't have all his teeth but he drove us there....fast as lightning and for cheap.
We're speeding down the street, we have no real clue where we are going, and it's taking a while for us to get there. It didn't really matter. Our dreams of riding the express train had been shattered and we didn't have another plan.
We get to the travel bureau and spend about an hour arguing with the only man who speaks English because is telling us that ALL THE TRAINS are completely sold out. Every train. Not a single seat left on all the other trains from Delhi to Agra. We don't believe him, but there's nothing we can do at this point.......I got the overwhelming feeling that we were being told whatever popped into that man's brain to say because he knew we didn't know any better. In fact, I had had that feeling all morning. Everyone we spoke to knew we didn't know any better and they took advantage of our ignorance.
Just short of cursing this man out, clearing his desk and breaking everything in his office, this disrespectful jerk issued us a refund that we wouldn't see until weeks from then. This was me trying to restrain myself.
Then we left. But where were we going? We were in some random part of town and the toothless cab driver allowed us to get back into the cab but then decided that he did not want to take us back to our hotel..... apparently it was too far for the original price he agreed to.....so he drove off. He stops, in the middle of the street, and we get out. Meanwhile, the men that were outside the travel bureau have been watching and are now laughing at our misfortune. We were stuck. Now what?
Welp...we stood in a close circle and weighed the options but whatever we decided, we would have to get back to the hotel first. Ultimately, we would ask the hotel to book us a day trip to Agra. Obviously we had failed in trying to get there on our own.
That's when another man approached us. He either asked what we were doing or if we needed a cab. This all happened in September so small details like this are hard to recall now. We hesitantly told him we needed a cab back to our hotel. He corralled us like livestock over to an area, which looked like a dirty alley where there we some unmarked cars lined up and a bunch of men standing around, and not at all like a line of taxis (more like the perfect scene for a horror film). Bruh.....this moment, this whole day, made me so uncomfortable.
People started approaching us to sell things, waving some mysterious lantern on a chain with smoke ascending from the top of it around us......the men speaking to each other, in my mind talking about which of us they wanted to kill first and what they would do with our bodies afterwards.
We were told that there was a cab driver, I guess the next one in line, who would take us to our hotel. He must have been taking a poop or something because we had to stand there and fight off vendors for the next hour, or at least it seemed that long - just enough time for that looming feeling of discomfort to set up shop in my body. I'm sure we looked scared and alone in a desolate land. I felt like we were being gawked at...and plotted against....and just...nah man.
Then a man in all white came, trotting from around the corner. And this is when we met Pappuji.
For the rest of the story....stay tuned to Episode 2 of Pappuji and the Disrespectful Journey to the Taj Mahal.